On stewardship and service
Recognizing our interdependence and moving forward service.
I was walking my dog last night, and I saw a pair of kids — a girl was pulling what appeared to be her younger brother in one of those classic red carts — together they were placing luminaries down the block, which are paper bags with a candle inside, they represent the birth of Christ. They are an invitation to welcome his spirit into one’s home.
Seeing these two small kids work together to adorn the streets reminded me of the fact that today’s children will be the ones most impacted by the decisions we make today and, in return, will be the ones who will, in the future make decisions that will impact our much older selves.
This exchange of generational reciprocity begs us to make wiser choices today and to ground ourselves in value-driven decisions that we can pass on to our future leaders.
Recently, I was interviewed by the American Institute of Graphic Arts about the impact of mentorship and the methods we can use to help and serve our communities. The Japanese concept of Ikigai is one that I try to bring into sessions with my mentees — encouraging them to examine the intersection of their purpose, mission, and passion and methods to bring that into their work.
There’s an approach to community organizing called shared stewardship — I’ve seen it in practice in Zen Buddhist centers, and I’ve learned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture also recognizes this mode of working as essential to dealing with environmental challenges such as wildfires and drought.
The practice of shared stewardship starts with acknowledging the reality of interdependence; everything is connected, and nothing exists in isolation. All things are possible through collective action. Rather than delegating power to a select few people — power is distributed amongst all involved, and together, there’s a shared vision to work towards through diverse skills and expertise.
Over the last two years, due to the global pandemic that gripped us all, we were forced to face the reality that is our lives. For many, we allowed ourselves to experience an existential doom that had been percolating all along but was tucked away. And despite how flawed or value-deficient our world felt, an abundance of altruism and compassion sprung from underneath the rubble.
And this collective energy or shared stewardship appears to be the antidote to much of our suffering, grief, angst, and isolation. It is a step that moves us away from our self-centered individualism and closer to an absolute truth that views all life as precious. Through shared stewardship, we give up power and surrender to one another — we cut through the duality that prioritizes one group over another, thus abandoning polarization and strife.
Despite all its powerful ways of connecting us to the world and each other, technology distances us from profound connection and meaning. Speaking from experience, seeing the world on fire through my phone sometimes creates dissociation from what is happening. I read about an execution, and seconds later, I am served an advertisement for something I don’t need.
This digital speed, or empire as my friend calls it, robs us of the ability to slow down and contemplate what we are receiving. To an extent, it eliminates our accountability towards one another, but it is masked through false solidarity that happens in the form of reposting, retweeting or sharing.
It is much easier to say black lives matter and speak against war on the internet than to take action. From the comfort of our homes, we paint a narrative that often positions our views as right and makes us the hero. We criminalize others in our minds and exist in echo chambers supported by our digital algorithms.
And as someone that works in digital design, I understand technology’s power to manipulate and control— much of it is done through the process of human-centered design and is masked as benefiting the user, which we call people that engage with digital products. And the flaw recently being recognized in human-centered design is that, again, it is individualistic and discounts biodiversity and the well-being of our planet. I might even suggest that Earth faces mass animal extinction and climate change because of human-centered design.
Today, you can make just about anything human-centered — weapons of war can be human-centered, positioning the murderer as human and the victim as subhuman. The slaughterhouses in which animals face their untimely death are human-centered, prioritizing the safety of the executioner and positioning the animal as not worthy of life.
And I bring this up because if we look around, it is evident that to drive change, often a bottom-up approach is what leads to a spark. Take, for example, Greta Thunberg, the young woman who, at the age of 15, started a movement that reinvigorated the world’s eyes to climate change. The urgency to pay attention to how we are destroying the world didn’t come from an executive or “world leader” — instead, it came from a child’s innocence — and because of this, a new movement was begun — shared stewardship that has opened the eyes of many.
We ought to hold ourselves accountable to each other and recognize our interdependence. The world needs you and your perspective. We can mentor, volunteer, start collectives, coach others, and be present for each other. We can model resilience and deep listening and consider alternate realities that support the planet’s well-being — and most importantly, move beyond our capitalistic echo chambers that do more harm than good — we can forgive, not give up on others, and speak kindly. Like the kids adorning the streets with luminaries, we can lift each other up to improve the world.
We shouldn’t wait for permission.
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
This newsletter has a playlist that accompanies each issue. If you follow the playlist on Spotify, it will regularly update with the latest tracks.
Low Symphony Philip Glass
Chopin Fantasy Shinya Kiozuka
How Lucky You Are David Bowie
Pressure Drop Toots & The Maytals
Thank you for reading.